Are Your Co-Workers Good For Your Health?

March 11, 2012

Last week I wrote about Pret A Manger which rewards employees on behaviors such as niceness and teamwork, not just traditional measures of performance. Pret believes incenting these behaviors improves the health of the organization which leads to more sustainable performance. A 2011 research study from Tel Aviv University backs them up and suggests having nice co-workers even improves employee health.

The researchers closely monitored 800 adults over twenty years, repeatedly interviewing them on a wide range of topics from the conditions in their workplace, the behavior of their bosses, and the niceness of their colleagues. Perhaps not surprisingly, the perceived niceness of co-workers was highly correlated with the risk of death. After all, friendly people help reduce stress and stress is deadly.

However, the strength of this correlation is astonishing. Employees without ‘peer social support’ in the workplace were 2.4X more likely to die during the study. What’s more, the niceness of the boss had almost no impact on mortality. Stanford Professor Bob Sutton had it right when he coined the ‘No Asshole Rule‘.

Given my analytic bent, I was intrigued that one of the strongest factors in the statistical model between peer social support and mortality was the perception of control. We don’t just want friends in the workplace; we want our co-workers to listen to our opinions and believe we matter. Or, as a Wired Science article so eloquently said:

…the only thing worse than an office full of assholes is an office full of assholes telling us what to do.

The morale of the story? Hire friendly people and give them jobs in which they can have impact. Otherwise their health – and your company’s – will suffer.